Trumping Middle East Policy

statue-of-liberty-267949_960_720The Next Century Foundation takes a look at the National Security Advisors and the Senior Foreign Policy team in the new U.S. administration, as well as the sort of Middle Eastern policy that might be pursued.

Rex Tillerson: Secretary of State

Rex Tillerson joined Exxon in 1975. One of the crowning jewels of his career was the acquisition of XTO Energy by ExxonMobil in 2009 for $31 billion. Michael Corkery of the Wall Street Journal wrote that “Tillerson’s legacy rides on the XTO Deal.”

We know more about Tillerson’s views on the Middle East than we do Kushners’. One dependable policy is less involvement in the whole region. He is critical of the U.S’ involvement in Libya, and although called the Iraq war “well-intended”, he also described it as unsuccessful. In this light, we can speculate that he wants to see less American intervention in the region. Through his role at Exxon, he had close ties with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. In 2011, Tillerson, on behalf of ExxonMobil, signed a deal to develop oil fields in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The agreement defied Iraqi law, which forbids companies from dealing directly with Iraqi Kurdistan. Whether this will result in more robust support for the Kurds or not remains to be seen. However, it is important to note that his diplomatic interests as Secretary of State are different to that of his economic interests as CEO of Exxon.

One big policy issue currently is Iran, Russia’s major ally in West Asia. In the wake of Trump’s forceful rhetoric towards Iran, Tillerson might be expected to project a calmer voice. Indeed, Tilerson is described by the Kremlin as a solid and very professional man, he also enjoys a less antagonistic relationship with President Putin than many other officials. Secretary Tillerson is interested in expanding the American footprint in the world at large including Iran. For example, there are large Iranian oil reserves in which Tillerson’s former company has shown interest in, there are also many opportunities for American companies to sell products to Iran. However, the imposition of new sanctions against Iran following its ballistic missile tests, as well as strong bipartisan congressional opposition against warmer Iranian ties may push bilateral commercial consideration to the backburner.

James Mattis: Secretary of Defence (Gen Ret.)

James “Mad Dog” Mattis is the U.S. Secretary of Defence. While he is criticised for being too single minded, he also has an impressive CV. A U.S. Marine since 1969, he has an M.A. in International Security Affairs and is (in)famous for carrying around a copy of ‘Meditations’ by Marcus Aurelius throughout his deployments. He is noted for his intellectualism and study of history. Having served in the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan, his handling of his Marines is well noted. He made them complete cultural sensitivity training, and encouraged them to maintain good relationships with Iraqi civilians.

On the Middle East, Mattis has been much clearer in his views than both Tillerson or Kushner. He has reaffirmed the U.S. – Saudi strategic relationship and praised the friendship of regional allies. These allies and friends include: Jordan, the UAE and Egypt. He wants to work more closely with these countries; strengthening ties with their spy agencies and expanding naval exercises. On Israel, he supports the two-state solution, calling the current situation “unsustainable” and believes the settlement construction could theoretically lead to an apartheid-like situation in the West Bank. He believes the lack of a two-state solution upsets the Arab allies of America, which weakens US esteem amongst its Arab allies.

The biggest threat, according to Mattis, is Iran. “The Iranian regime, in [his] mind, is the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.” He believes the nuclear halt is actually only a pause. He wants to increase the U.S. naval presence in the Gulf. He also considers ISIS an excuse for Iran to “continue its mischief”. A worry concerning Mattis’ hawkish Iranian rhetoric is that it risks undermining the very real threat of ISIS. While Iran is engaged in proxy wars in the region, the very existence of ISIS sustains the threat of Jihadist terrorism not only in the Middle East but also in Europe and the West.

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster: National Security Advisor

Herbert Raymond McMaster is a serving three-star general. He is a graduate of the US Military Academy and holds a PhD in military history from the University of North Carolina. He is the author of the book “Dereliction of Duty”, which heavily criticised the U.S. military policy in Vietnam. He is best known for successfully leading the 2005 counterinsurgency operations in Tal Afar in Iraq, a city of 250,000, and commanding the 140-soldier Eagle Troop, part of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment during a 1991 tank battle. Both cases pioneered tactics that are studied by the U.S. military to this day; neither approach the political complexity of the role McMaster has been assigned to in the administration.

McMaster is a strategic thinker, he has a record of military achievement and is very widely respected among national security professionals from both the Democratic and Republican sides. On the topic of the Middle East, he refuses to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism”, believing that the U.S. should not play into the jihadist propaganda that suggest that this is a religious war. He replaces Michael T. Flynn who resigned after admitting that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about a phone call with a Russian diplomat. McMaster has a reputation for speaking his mind within military ranks, causing some to wonder if that is why he was not promoted more rapidly. How this translates into White House policy and politics remains to be seen. Rumours are circulating that unlike Chief Strategist Bannon, McMaster will not have walk-in privileges to the Oval Office.

Michael Pompeo: Director, Central Intelligence Agency

A former army officer and Kansas Congressman, Mike Pompeo was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, served in the Gulf War, and served three terms in congress. He won a fourth, but resigned to take up his current position. He opposes closing Guantanamo, criticises the closing of ‘black sites’, and is currently on a visit to Turkey.

Pompeo is fiercely critical of Islam. He has said that Muslim leaders who fail to denounce acts of terrorism done in the name of Islam are “potentially complicit” in the attacks. He has also spoken of a war between the Christian West and Islamic East, emphasising the need for the west to “destroy the threat of radical Islamic terrorism”, and remove the “dozens of groups that are founded on the central principle of the destruction of the West and the imposition of Sharia Law”. He is fundamentally grounded in his Christian faith and claims that “Jesus Christ is truly the only solution for [the] world. He is also a strong critic of the Iranian nuclear deal, and agrees with the argument that Iran is “the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism”. Iran, in his opinion, is the most dangerous threat to Israel. His views on Russia are reasonably common, he believes the country is aggressively reasserting itself without doing much to combat ISIS, and accuses the Russians of “siding with rogue states” as well as participating in “unpunished affronts to U.S. interests.

Jared Kushner: Senior Advisor to the President

Jared Kushner comes from an Orthodox Jewish family. His paternal grandparents were holocaust survivors, and is married to the President’s daughter Ivanka. He took the reins of his father’s property empire after Charles Kushner was convicted for tax evasion, illegal campaign donations and witness tampering. Widely known to have been instrumental in the running of Trump’s online campaign, Kushner has been made Senior White House Advisor, and given the task of ‘brokering Middle East Peace’.

Little is known of Kushner’s views on the Middle East. Trump asserts that Kushner “knows the region, knows the people, knows the players”, but his role as a ‘peace broker’ is still shrouded in vagueness. One can speculate that he is sympathetic to the state of Israel considering that his family has donated over $300,000 to Friends of the Israeli Defence Force. The Kushner foundation has also donated around $40,000 to a well-established settlement of Bet El that is considered hard-line and ideological.

Of course, supporting charities in Israel does not mean that Kushner himself is supportive of settlement expansion, or of hard-line pro-Israel views. It does mean, however, that his actions, especially those concerning Israel and Palestine will be scrutinised both domestically and abroad.

Steve Bannon: Chief Strategist

Steve Bannon has appointed himself to the National Security Council. He is a fierce outspoken critic of Islam, calling it “the most radical” religion in the world and claims that the U.S. and the Western world are engaged in a “global existential war”. There are numerous editorials stating that many of his supporters in the developing ‘alt-right’ group are anti-Semitic, despite Bannon’s apparent strong support for Israel. By reorganizing the National Security Council and elevating Bannon, Trump’s Chief Strategist will now sit in on the top inter-agency group for discussing national security, some experts deem this to be controversial.


The Trump administration’s Middle Eastern Policy will be shaped not only by the President himself, but also by four of his key advisors. There are some conclusions we can make regarding the ME policy.

Israel: Stronger support as emphasised by the plan to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Whether this translates into support for all Israeli communities in the West Bank, or potentially U.S. approval of the largest settlements in Israel remains to be seen.

Iran: There are attempts to renegotiate the nuclear deal, but safeguarding Israel’s security is a priority. There is strong anti-Iranian rhetoric, and a desire to increase military presence, (most likely the U.S. Navy in the Gulf), but there is also pressure from congress not to reduce sanctions.

With so many countries actively engaged in the region and sponsoring proxies, it is no wonder that the new administration wants to detangle itself from the region, however, how this translates to effective foreign policy, considering Russia’s alliance with Iran remains to be seen. We are likely to see continued support for Jordan, Sisi’s government in Egypt, and possibly Turkey, as long as they continue the fight against ISIS. We might also see an emphasis on Saudi and Gulf allies to shoulder more responsibility for combating ISIS, and acting as a bulwark against Iranian ‘meddling’. One certainty is “uncertainty”.

By Edward Tebbutt

Engage, not Prevent – a review of a Select Committee’s report on the Government’s Anti-Terrorism policy

“Identifying the tipping point for many men and women thinking of joining Daesh remains the holy grail in our fight against radicalisation”.

It emerged a couple weeks ago that one of the Bethnal Green school girls who left Britain for Syria in 2015 had been killed in a Russian airstrike.  Kadiza Sultana, along with Amira Abase and Shamima Begum were a part of a surge of young people heading out from Britain to join organisations fighting in Syria and Iraq.  The numbers are deeply concerning; a recent report estimates that around 850 have left, with 125 losing their lives (the NCF believes the real figure to be considerably higher).  Kadiza Sultana and her friends from East London have become a statistic in a recent Select Committee report that addresses concerns over the Government’s Anti-Terrorism policy.

Kadiza (second row, second from left) is just one of 850 young Britons to have fled to the Middle East.  A Select Committee is calling for the Prevent Strategy to be reviewed and overhauled.

The report, published on 25th August 2016, has highlighted a number of problems with the Prevent Strategy, and offers options to make the strategy more accessible to those that need it most.  The report centred on the issue of combatting radicalisation and extremism amongst vulnerable people, and draws on how The Home Office, schools, health organisations, social media companies, security services and the press all have a responsibility to enhance their resources with the aim of engaging communities, instead of alienating them.  The committee felt that the current system used for Prevent was causing more harm than good.  Security Minister Ben Wallace argued that the strategy had been reviewed numerous times to “ensure it works,” and that “for Prevent to work, we all need to get behind it, not stand on the side lines undermining it”.  However, Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow has called for a proper assessment of Prevent, to “really understand what works and what doesn’t”.

The Select Committee have called for a review, and have encouraged a community led approach.  As of this moment, the strategy is viewed by many in local communities as a “big brother” security operation.  Harun Khan, deputy head of the Muslim Council of Britain has also expressed his concern, claiming that many young people feel they are being viewed as “suspects” rather than feeling welcomed and encouraged to speak out.  The real focus of the strategy should be around building a relationship between various influential community groups and the state.

A CCTV camera
Prevent was criticised after hidden CCTV cameras were placed around predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham

 The most promising set of options to improve Prevent was the strategy suggested for dealing with families and the rehabilitation of those affected by extremism.  In order to bridge the silence that characterises the relationship between the state and the communities, the committee highlighted the need for an easily accessible advice and counselling service, particularly for parents, but also for other loved ones and friends who may have concerns about people being radicalised.  If this were to be put in place, perhaps with community organisation members acting as part of the team of advisers, we could identify the tipping point where individuals start to embrace extremism.  The issue is a complex one, but engaging with families, would build up an extensive array of counter-narrative case studies.

Finally, with regards to the committee’s stance on rehabilitation, empowering young people to have a voice and use it with confidence seems to be the most commanding way to combat extremism at a grass roots level in the UK.  The committee advocated a programme that helps young people from vulnerable communities in acquiring critical reasoning skills and a sense of belonging and purpose, so that they could be aware of any manipulation or grooming.  Sara Khan, co-founder of the anti-terror organisation ‘Inspire’, has looked at girls like Kadiza as victims, who “lack the critical thinking skills” which “is what makes them vulnerable to Islamist extremist propaganda”.

It is important to note the success of the UK’s security services in preventing tragedies on the scale which have been seen elsewhere, and that should be highly commended.  However, the approach used by previous governments to counter extremism has so far not achieved the success that we have desired.  The Select Committee recognised that local communities, community leaders and young people are willing to cooperate and tackle the problem if the correct strategies were put in place to enable positive changes.  That being said, the report urged the Government to not squander this opportunity to harness the powerful force of community engagement.

By Nihal Patel

Kasodomski Jones talks ISIS

Alex Krasodomski Jones of the Centre for Social Media at the British think tank Demos talks about ISIS, about how ISIS uses social media, and about what we can do to combat it. Worth watching if you have the time. There has to be a non violent ideological alternative to this terror group.

Migration in 2016

Refugee_march_Hungary_2015-09-04_02As ISIS continues to wage war in Iraq and Syria, and security threats persist in Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of people continue to flee the region, seeking asylum. The xenophobia this has generated has resulted in tensions within Europe. There has been a backlash against EU countries not seen to be doing their part to help ameliorate the refugee crisis. Hungary arresting and deporting those who make it through holes in the barbed wire fence does not help the situation. Nor does the hostility displayed by the UK towards migrants trying to leave Calais in search for a better quality of life. However, it seems that we are in a catch 22 position. The German government, which only a month ago received praise for Angela Merkel’s willingness to help, is now being pressured to decrease the numbers of migrants accepted. They have begun sending more migrants back to Austria. This stems largely from the New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne and other cities. Yet this week, pictures have surfaced depicting the dire situation of some who remain in Syria. An aid convoy brought the first food and medical relief for three months to the besieged town Madaya, where thousands of people are suffering malnourishment. Understandably there are risks involved in welcoming refugees, but we are honour bound to foster a peaceful attitude towards migrants, who might otherwise be suffering like those left behind in Madaya.

Isis in Crisis?


NCF member Jonathan Mueller writes:

Isis in Crisis says Paul Wood in the Spectator. One can only hope that this is true.

I should not assign too much importance to their withdrawal from Ramadi. This appears to be their tactic — to fight up to the eleventh hour and then beat feet, leaving behind a mess of IEDs.
I still think that these assaults on cities are the wrong approach. They are time-consuming, and win or lose the city gets destroyed. Better to carve up bandit country with mobile patrols, isolating ISIS-controlled cities, cutting off their supplies of fuel and the flow of recruits, first raiding their outposts and then driving them in, reducing the territory they control, and waiting for the isolation to make their command structure come unglued.
Two weapons that are hallmarks of ISIS are suicide bombers and IEDs. The IEDs work, though, because we are ponderous and predictable. We need to move faster to keep them from emplacing them.
ISIS being on the retreat in Iraq/Syria, though, does not make Europe safer. I should expect them to respond to weakness in their caliphate by increasing terrorist attacks in Europe, in fact the Paris attacks may already have been an example of that.

On the UK bombing Syria

Demonstrators outside the UK parliament on the night of the vote for war (NCF picture)

Right or wrong, whatever your perspective, Britain is now bombing ISIS in Syria and the relevant questions become:
1) Whether British bombing will generate national prestige and strengthen bonds to countries such as France which, in turn, empowers Britain to pursue its national interest, or have an inverse effect by, for example, promoting torpor and lack of focus.
2) Correspondingly, whether or not abstaining from bombing would hurt national prestige, bespeaking a lack of will or capacity to engage, thereby weakening the country’s capacity to pursue its national interest;
3) Whether British bombing can be reasonably expected to have a positive or a negative net effect in concrete actual military terms;
4) Whether potential negative outcomes (in such military terms) outweigh the potential symbolic benefits wrought by projecting national force, or are outweighed by these.

What do you think ! ! !

What price for David Cameron’s plans to bomb Syria?

On Thursday 26th November, David Cameron set out his arguments in favour of extending RAF air strikes to Syria. The primary reasons for this extension were the defence of British citizens and the need to stand with our allies in the wake of the Paris attacks.

However, bombing already-bombed cities and supply routes will not defeat Islamic State or make British citizens safer. Similarly, killing more Syrians is not meaningful support for France. Rather Britain should invest its energies in working towards a new strategy in the so-called War on Terror. Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya are surely testament to the fact that the current strategy of military intervention has not worked.

A decision to “not bomb” Syria does not mean we are ‘sub-contracting our defence to our allies’. It should symbolise that we are actively seeking new paradigms with which to protect ourselves, our allies, and the innocent people all-too-often caught up in terrorist attacks.

Islamic State is suffering from military setbacks. However, without a new paradigm, military intervention will not bring lasting peace and has little value besides symbolic support for Britain’s (Western) allies.

A Bombing Campaign Won’t Work

In the first instance, extending air strikes into Syria will not ‘work’. Mr Cameron made clear that his objective to is to ‘degrade ISIL and to disrupt the threat it poses to UK’. These are two distinct aims, and military intervention in Syria would achieve neither.

Islamic State militants in Iraq have withstood British and Coalition bombing for over a year. They have been curiously resilient. Part of the reason for this seems to be that Islamic State fighters have dug a network of tunnels underneath their strongholds. These tunnels protect fighters from bombing raids, and yet are not open to civilians. There is a real risk of collateral damage for limited military gain.

Of course, Mr Cameron accepts that airstrikes alone are not enough to defeat Islamic State, and his plan rests on the presence of so-called ‘moderate’ ground forces. In Mr Cameron’s view, there are 70,000 Free Syrian Army fighters still ready to pounce on any weakness shown by IS. Let us be clear. There is no independent Free Syrian Army; the former UK Ambassador to Syria has labelled the plan ‘laughable’. There is no ‘moderate’ force on the ground, so we must ask, where will the ground troops required come from? The Kurds, remarkably successful in defending their own land, have shown no signs that they are prepared to go on the offensive outside of their own lands and are themselves divided by political rivalries. Assad’s forces remain a significant military adversary to Islamic State, yet Britain should resist covert alliances with the embattled premier. Such hypocrisy would undermine Britain’s place in the world far more than taking the time to consider the effect of bombing Syria.

There is No Plan for the Future of Syria in the Current Proposals

On a related note, Mr Cameron has not advanced a suitable plan for the future of Syria. Rather, he vaguely asserted that he would work with the ‘international community’ – a community with significantly different objectives for the outcome of the Syrian war – to rebuild the country.

Cameron has hinted that the Kurds have an important role to play in the future of Syria. Alarmingly, this suggests that Britain understands this conflict in ethnic and sectarian terms – much as we did in Iraq in 2003. In the absence of a detailed outline of his idea of a post-conflict Syria, we might therefore assume that Cameron would work towards giving the Kurds significant autonomy (a move sure to impact Turkey). Syria under this model could see a similar ‘federal’ model to that already in place (and failing) in Iraq.

If Britain engage in bombing runs against Islamic State Mr Cameron must then fully accept a key role in the future of Syria. Our allies in Iraq (much of the Shi’i dominated government) and tribal leaders from Afghanistan have complained that Britain left these countries when it was no longer politically convenient for Britain to stay. In a recent talk at Chatham House, the former Qatari Prime Minister raised similar concerns regarding a US withdrawal. The reconstruction of Syria is the challenge of this generation, and it needs a generation’s commitment.

Of course, Britain has a role to play in this reconstruction. As it stands though, there is no coherent plan for what this role would be, what the level of our long-term involvement would be, and what a post-Assad Syria would look like. The tactic of ‘bomb first, ask questions later’ has led to disaster to Afghanistan, Iraq and, most pertinently, Libya. Let us consider these examples before we rush to bomb more Middle Eastern countries.

Protecting British Citizens

It should be clear then, that on a practical note the ‘plan’ for going to war in Syria is worryingly incomplete. More to the point, the inevitable link between the Paris attacks and the renewed vigour for war (let us not forget that MPs voted against intervention in Syria in 2013) is dangerous. The mistake in linking them together too closely primarily lies in a misunderstanding of transnational terror.

Islamic State should be conceptualised as a network. Recent research has shown that 75% of its members were recruited by friends. As a transnational network with constantly evolving power structures, it is far too flexible to be ‘degraded’ by simply bombing Syrian cities.  Islamic State members are independent actors who have varying levels of connection to a central power structure. With the little we know about the hierarchy of power in Islamic State, we can accurately conclude that bombing high value targets in Syria would not stop a home-made bomb being smuggled onto a Russian airliner, or a group of brothers targeting a European capital.

Indeed, it is worth remembering that Europeans carried out the attacks in Paris. In making ‘Britain safer’ we have to be alert to the fact that it would be a British terrorist who would attack London.

What this means, then, is that we need to look closer to home to ‘make Britain safer’. There are two avenues here. The first is simple; the as-yet-undisclosed amount of money being spent to bomb people safe underground could be better spent on improving cyber-security (the fact that the British Security Minister thanked Anonymous for taking down Islamic State Twitter accounts, despite this action being labelled as counter-productive by intelligence analysts is worrying) and protecting police forces from budget cuts. Indeed, the fact that the Foreign Office has seen significant cuts in the past few years and has frozen hiring except through the Fast Stream suggests that the government is not concerned with improving our relationships with the Arab world. Rather, the primary aim is bomb hostile forces. Such a limited conception of Britain’s relationship with the Middle East not only risks accusations of Orientalism (in which we see only a threatening ‘other’ in the Middle East to be subjugated) but also reveals our inability to develop longer-term plans for the future.

The second point is that Cameron’s narrative that ‘ISIL targets our young people’ completely absolves Britain, and the others, of any role in the evolution of Islamist terrorism. While it is not helpful to simply assert that “Britain brought this upon herself”, in responding to Paris the Prime Minister would do well to examine Britain’s violent relationship with the Middle East in the last century. Indeed, to borrow some lessons from conflict resolution, a key first step in developing new paradigms for negotiation and understanding is self-examination. To develop new ways of combatting terrorist narratives, we need to properly examine our own role in the evolution of the narrative. Acknowledging the mistakes our past is the crucial first step in re-building and improving our relationships not only with Arab leaders but also with the Arab street, and engaging the Arab street is the key to sustainable peace. Importantly, this self-evaluation undermines, rather than feeds into, IS’s narrative of a ‘war on Islam’.

Britain certainly needs to stand by our allies, both in the West and the Middle East. However, Mr Cameron has not made a convincing case that bombing is a successful way to secure peace and keep Britain safe, in either the short or the long-term. The self-examination proposed here is of course not a fully-fledged plan of action. What it could represent is the acceptance that what we have tried since 2001 has not worked and has been counter-productive. Discovering and implementing that alternative is how we help France, secure Britain, and develop sustainable peace. Ultimately, Mr Cameron’s war-cry that not bombing Syria is equivalent to “doing nothing” should be inverted. Bombing Syria will do nothing to support Britain’s own goals, our allies, or the Middle East.

Not bombing does not constitute inaction. It is a demand for something better from the Prime Minister.


From NCF member Stafford Clary in Kurdistan:

About 20,000 Kurdistan forces are engaged in capturing and holding Shingal (Sinjar) Town and surrounding areas.

Reports indicate Operation Free Shingal has effectively severed a strategic ISIS supply route between Raqqa (Syria) and Mosul. A road segment between Shingal and Tal Afar is reportedly under Kurdistan control. Indications are that Kurdistan forces are moving on Tal Afar, a major town between Shingal and Mosul.

Due to anticipated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and booby traps, fully capturing Shingal Town calls for caution and will take time.

Why has Putin redoubled his efforts in Syria?

Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad meet in December, 2006.
Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad meet in December, 2006.

Many commentators are wondering why Russia has recently redoubled its efforts in supporting the Syrian government. Since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, Russian President Vladimir Putin has reiterated his unwavering support for President Bashar Al-Assad.

There are a number of reasons for this, some range from lucrative military trade deals to preventing a foreign-aided overthrow of the government, but most importantly it has been to retain the geopolitical status Russia continues to enjoy in the Middle East. Putin sees himself as a peace broker and an essential element in preserving Russia’s status as an “alternative”, non-interventionist nation opposed to Western style diplomacy in the Middle East.

Ironically, this style has not been seen recently. There are reports that on August 12th Senior Russian military advisers were flown in to Latakia, an Alawite stronghold in the coast. Similar sources indicate a Russian military build-up and increase in equipment transfers near Syrian-army bases. On September 3rd, The Times reported a Russian Air Force battalion, BTR-82A, with clips of Russian-commands being spoken on Syrian national television, participating in combat.

So why fuel the fire? The immediate answer is that the Assad’s summer pullback has indicated to Putin that the government is not stable enough to deflect the ISIS offensive. For Putin, ISIS is the ultimate enemy and the importance of destroying the ideology’s appeal is of strategic significance. The increased Russian-born Islamist recruits from the troubled Caucuses regions indicates just that. Putin is intent on breaking the ISIS threat and intends to do so by creating a new anti-ISIS coalition, one that entails a continuation of Assad’s rule. However, unlike previous strategies, Putin is breaking his own rule of vetoing direct third-party involvement in internal affairs. The consequence of this change will only be visible in the long term.

ISIS continues to enslave Yazidi women

Yazidi Refugees

ISIS continues to target the Yazidi community in their campaign to “purify” Iraq.

Yazidis are an Iraqi religious minority that originate in Northern Iraq, predominately in the autonomous Kurdistan region as well as in the  Nineveh Plane and Sinjar region of Ninevah Provence. Although some Yazidis speak Arabic, many speak Kurdish; and all Yazidis consider themselves a distinct minority.

Thousands of Yazidi men have been killed by ISIS in an attempt to diminish their population, and thousands of women and children have been abducted and forced into slavery. The Yazidi community says that ISIS is still holding more than 3,500 of their women and girls captive.

ISIS has implemented a program of systematic sex trafficking for abducted Yazidi girls. The organisation’s theology of rape has become deeply enshrined in their radical belief system. They first began kidnapping Yazidi women in August 2014, in Sinjar, Iraq. While the group at first tried to deny that they were sexually exploiting women from the Yazidi community, they finally acknowledged their sexual enslavement of Yazidi women in the October 2014 issue of their magazine Dabiq. ISIS ideologues offered justification for the enslavement of Yazidis by explaining how they consider slavery permissible under Islamic Law. The jihadists argue that capturing and raping Yazidi women is justified and not a sin because Yazidis do not believe in Islam. These ideologues further argue that it is their religious duty to kill or enslave members of the Yazidi community as a part of their jihad against their enemies.

Many survivors and escapees have recalled their traumatic experiences and the brutal nature of ISIS. Yazidis have spoken about being systematically raped, imprisoned and physically and emotionally abused by ISIS. However some women who have escaped after enduring sexual violence believe that their “honour” will be tarnished if they speak about what they have been through. Survivors face social stigma from within their own community when they return home. Many others in captivity have turned to suicide as a response to the constant sexual abuse by ISIS.

ISIS considers the continued existence of Yazidis incompatible with their goal of establishing an Islamic State and therefore have deliberately targeted Yazidis and used strategies that aim to erase the Yazidi culture, religion and bloodline. ISIS is aiming for the systemic destruction of the entire Yazidi population.

ISIS’s attacks on the Yazidi community amount to a genocide, however apart from UN expressions of “extreme concern,” very little has been done to protect and assist the Yazidi community.